Average White Band
Atlantic SD 7308
Released: August 1974
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 43
Certified Gold: 1/14/75
If it wasn't apparent from its first album (on MCA), it is from the second: Scotland's Averge White Band is one of the best self-contained soul units in existence. Every track on Average White Band pulsates with a tightly reined energy, and several weave a low-keyed poignancy through the thick, churning rhythms. From every conceivable angle -- original material, vocal/instrumental arrangements and performances, production and the establishment of a clear-cut identity -- the AWB impresses here in an assured, forceful way.
The band -- several of whose members have worked extensively in Britain behind visiting American black musicians -- doesn't merely sound like a soul band; it is a soul band; there's no question about that, although there's the obvious question about how in the world the sextet got to this level of proficiency and emotional involvement in a culturally alien idiom. At the same time, there are elements of Britishness in the music: Upon hearing the album, a friend remarked that this is what Traffic might have sounded like today if they'd developed discipline. Actually, though, Traffic has never had anything like the punch of AWB.
Roger Ball's horn arrangements and Onnie McIntyre's relentless rhythm guitar work stand out even among these generally classy performances. But chiefly responsible for the AWB's aural distinctiveness are the vocals: Lead singer Alan Gorrie (once in a good though little-known group called Forever More) often resembles early Steve Winwood in his strength and flexibility, while falsetto vocalist Hamish Stuart possesses an amazingly rich, rangy voice, which he uses with the daring of an aerialist. With McIntyre filling out the backgrounds in a sparing, virile way, the AWB consistently produces stunning vocal work.
The tracks are sequenced in such a way that the first half of the album emphasizes rhythmic energy while side two is dominated by a bittersweet romantic intensity. The second side, in fact, plays through like a soul suite, with Gorrie's "Keepin' It to Myself" (distinguished by Molly Duncan's wistful, Jr. Walker-style sax) and Stuart's "I Just Can't Give You Up" particularly affecting. The LP's single non-original, a faithful rendering of the Isley's "Work To Do," shows off the group's power, timing and finesse as well as anything they've recorded.
- Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 10/10/74.
I dreamed last night that I met the Angel of Death. He was about to tap me on the shoulder when I said, "Wait a minute. If my time has come, so be it. But before I go, would you mind setting something straight for me?"
The Angel of Death cleaned his nails with his scythe and nodded. "But make it brief," he said.
"Okay," I said. "Here's a record by a British group called the Average White Band. They try to play black music. I mean they imitate it note for note. With all the real black bands around, can you tell me why we need an outfit like that?"
The Angel of Death looked at his watch. "Not offhand. Come on, bub, let's move."
"Don't call me bub," I said. "This is my last request and you have to honor it."
The Angel of Death sighed, chilly air rushing from his thin lips. He propped his scythe in a corner. "Boy, the things I have to.... All right, play me a cut. A short one."
I played two cuts. The Angel of Death pondered and asked, "What's their name again?"
"The Average White Band," I said.
The Angel grimaced. "They sure are."
That's just my point," I said. "Can you explain them? What does it all mean?"
The Angel of Death went to the corner and picked up his scythe. He adjusted a fold of his robe that had dropped from his bony shoulder. He shook his head.
"I'm stumped," he said. "The world could do without them. No, don't put on your coat. I have to let you go. I couldn't grant your last request."
"You mean I'm absolutely free?" I cried.
"No, absolutely not. I'll come around for you every two years, just like jury duty. I suppose you'll have another Average White Band album for me to listen to by then."
The Angel of Death smiled. "Don't get cute," he said. He tapped a fingernail on the scythe, and the blade rang like a tiny broken bell. "Be thankful for your chance. And in the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to be a little nicer to Curtis Mayfield."
- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 2/75.
These lyrics aren't banal, just plain-spoken (my favorite: "Keepin' It to Myself"), and in any case the passionate expertness of the vocal mix (like the Rascals, only the Rascals were never this tight), combined with a motion more Brownian than most black groups can manage, more than makes up. A-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Fans of 70s funk must own the group's first two Atlantic albums, Average White Band and Cut the Cake. * * * * 1/2
- Eric Deggans, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Average White Band's self-titled second album was also their best. It contained their biggest and best hit, "Pick up the Pieces," as well as "Keepin' It to Myself." * * * *
- Dan Heilman, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
The funkiest Scottish band ever, these soulful emulators of Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown prove they can get into a solid groove with excellent arrangements like "Pick Up the Pieces." This treasure brims with dominant saxophones, jazzed-up rock production, great harmony vocals and some of the best drumming in the genre. But the less-impressed quip the '70s outfit "really lives up to their name." * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
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